The J&K Reorganisation Act introduced a new governance system in Jammu and Kashmir on October 31, 2019, when the erstwhile state started functioning as a Union Territory.
The implementation of the Reorganisation Act led to the repeal of the J&K Waqf Act, 2001, and the Specified Waqf Act, 2004. It paved way for the Central Waqf Act, 1995, to be extended to the UT.
The Act brought all the 133 Muslim mosques and shrines, with an annual income of Rs 26 crore and 9,500 kanals of land, in J&K under the Central Waqf Board.
Till October 31, 2019, the J&K Board for Muslim Specified Waqfs used to take care of 32,000 properties, including shrines, mosques, and educational institutions across J&K.
The board had also supported the setting up of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) between 2002 and 2008 at Awantipora in South Kashmir. Later, the varsity was taken over by the government.
In the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, the Chief Minister used to be the chairman of the Waqf Board. Its system was different from other Waqf boards in the country. It had a centralised revenue system. Across the country, the Central Waqf Boards function to give more powers to mutwalis, the traditional caretakers of the shrines, to collect endowments in the form of cash and jewellery and run the affairs on their own. The Central Waqf Act calls for 7 per cent of revenue share from these shrines.
Waqf Board revamped
In July 2021, the President empowered the J&K Lieutenant Governor to constitute a body for setting up of a Waqf Board in Jammu & Kashmir that would look after Muslim shrines and properties in the Union Territory.
Before the reorganisation of J&K, two bodies – Waqf Board and Waqf Council – were mandated to look after Muslim shrines and properties in J&K.
In March 2022, the government appointed Darakhshan Andrabi, Syed Mohammad Hussain, Ghulam Nabi Haleem and Sohail Kazmi as members of the new Waqf Board. Andrabi was appointed as the chairperson and was accorded the status of Minister of State.
Soon after BJP leader Andrabi was appointed as the first woman chairperson of the Board, PDP spokesperson and former MLA, Firdous Tak, termed the move as a step towards controlling the religious beliefs and practices in J&K.
Earlier, the Waqf Board was named as Muslim Auqaf Trust. It had been formed by former J&K Chief Minister and National Conference leader late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Till the NC remained in power, it continued to function as Muslim Auqaf Trust. However, after late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the J&K Chief Minister, he reconstituted the Muslim Auqaf Trust through legislation as J&K Board for Muslim Specified Waqfs.
After Sayeed’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to power, it alleged that the Muslim Auqaf Trust had lost its credibility as the donations that were collected from different shrines and the revenues generated as rent from different properties were being mismanaged.
Waqf activities won’t be confined
After Andrabi took over the reins of the board, she made it explicitly clear that the activities of Waqf in “Naya Jammu and Kashmir” won’t be confined to only construction and maintenance of religious places.
The board wants to create assets like schools, universities and hospitals, such as Narayana Hospital and Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, so that people from every section of society irrespective of colour, creed or religion get benefited.
The board has moved a proposal to build a cancer hospital in J&K so that people don’t have to travel to other parts of the country for treatment.
The board intends to restore the ownership of the encroached Waqf properties in the Union Territory. The encroachers have been directed to surrender their right of illegal occupation or face the wrath of bulldozers.
Other proposals include formation of a tribunal as per Central Waqf Act to address to the legal matters related to Waqf in J&K.
Waqf in J&K started functioning in 1940s with a noble cause but it lost its track midway due to poor management, and excessive politicisation.
The other factors that didn’t allow Waqf to deliver in the erstwhile J&K state included lack of a developmental vision, and clarity and absence of an innovative framework that could have led to a functional management.
No serious effort to enhance internal management, planning, and decision-making also led to Waqf remaining mired in controversies. The political regimes used Waqf as a place to rehabilitate their workers.
The former regimes in the Himalayan region were not open to the idea of adapting Waqf models that were functional in the country. There was no balance in the administration to maintain such a faith-based philanthropic institution.
A poor and a politicised Waqf in J&K in the past deprived the deserving of the help that the institution could have provided.
In the past, no stringent audits were conducted and the common man had no idea as to what used to happen to the donation that he used to offer in shrines and mosques. Many used to believe that the donations offered by them reached the politicians through one or the other means.
New members need to assure people
The new Waqf Board members in Jammu and Kashmir will have to put in an extra effort to send a message to the people that the donations offered by them won’t go anywhere and these will be used for good causes like building hospitals, schools, colleges and other institutions.
The Waqf assets in J&K need to be developed in such a way that they start contributing towards the welfare of the society. The institution that could have gone a long way in building Jammu and Kashmir used to serve the interests of the political regimes. However, in ‘Naya J&K’, a roadmap has been formulated to take Waqf to new heights. The new chairperson of the board has already made it clear that the Waqf in J&K would become an example in the country.
A mechanism is being framed to achieve the much-needed balance that can prevent political polarisation. The new plan for Waqf envisages umbrella bodies, other trusts, and business groups that do big philanthropies, so that big issues like disasters can be tackled.
The Waqf can also provide scholarships, organise awareness workshops and conferences.
A Waqf movement is in offing in ‘Naya J&K’ and the government has assured all possible financial and other help to the Waqf Board. The new beginning has already been made.